Finding affordable housing near campus is a massive obstacle that many USF students find themselves facing after completing their first year at the University. The complex debate around the San Francisco housing crisis, attributed to lack of availability and unaffordable prices, was addressed at last Thursday’s Real Estate Law Society (RELS) speaker panel.
USF held the discussion over Proposition F, which will be on the ballot for the upcoming Nov. 3 election. David Owen, Regional Head of Public Policy at Airbnb, spoke out against the legislation, while Quintin Mecke, campaign consultant for Share Better SF, argued in its favor.
In short, Prop F, dubbed the “Airbnb Initiative,” restricts short term rentals in San Francisco to a maximum of 75 nights per year per unit. The proposition would enforce regulations on growing private rental and home-sharing companies, such as Airbnb and Homeaway. As Christine Gregorak from the California State Bar Real Property Law Section Executive Committee said: “We are facing a clash between innovation and existing laws.”
The first topic addressed was whether or not short term rental practices take away affordable housing inventory. Those in favor of Prop F fear that Airbnb is responsible for depleting the market for available housing and have campaigned with the slogan “No to Luxury Condos, Yes to Affordable Housing.” Mecke stated that, “Anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 units have been removed from the market to be solely short term rentals.” Mecke claimed that Prop F is an extreme and irreversible measure, while Owen refuted that it is, “clearly intended to attack the home-sharing market.”
The campaign supporting Prop F has had financial backing from the hotel industry. “The hotel industry has kept a low profile so far, but they’ve been dumping money into the campaign,” stated Owen. Owen claims that approximately $25,000 dollars have been spent by hotels to fund the campaign for Prop F. Airbnb, valued at $25 billion, is no doubt a major competitor in the market.
Prop F argues that changing the enforcement for short term rentals is an urgent measure. Quintin Mecke wanted to make one thing clear from the start: “Short term rentals were illegal; we have to start with that premise. These companies were initially based on illegal activity.” The law permitting short term rental was just recently enacted on Feb. 1. Owen rebuttled with: “It is tremendously unfair to say a brand new law is not working.” Airbnb is willing to make changes and amend the current law to suit all participant needs. Owen said there is not a need to take drastic measures in the immediate future.
Home-sharing companies such as Airbnb is currently not required to share any of their booking data. If hosts are providing false information, such as by listing vacancies against the landlord’s approval, there is no penalty for the hosts nor for the hosting platform. Prop F wants to change this by requiring companies like Airbnb to publicly offer up their host’s registration information.
“There are so many opportunities for abuse if you allow anyone to come forth and sue,” Owen said. Every time a citizen comes forth with a problem the city will be forced to incur administrative costs and participate in the lawsuit. Under Prop F, this could become a common occurrence since the bill states anyone related to or facilitating a short term rental could be sued. Owens added, “In terms of the process and costs for the city, it’ll be substantial.” He attributes this flaw to vague, poorly worded language in Prop F.
According to Mecke, “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it was just about sharing a room in your home; you’re running a business out of your home.”
San Franciscans will have their opportunity to speak up as they vote on Prop F in the upcoming Nov. 3 ballot. The result will either implement new regulations or continue to amend the current law for short-term rentals.
Photo courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn